Trivia · Word of the week

Word of the week: Gitega

Here’s another news story that passed me by in 2019: the capital city of African nation Burundi has changed. It is now Gitega, which was the seat of the Kingdom of Burundi until it was abolished in 1966. The former capital, Bujumbura, is still the economic capital and centre of commerce.

Like many other facts about geography, this one came to my attention through a quiz show. It was part of a question on “The Chase” on 5 October. In January 2020 I wrote this piece about eSwatini, the new name for the country formerly known as Swaziland. That earlier piece included details of other changes to country names in Africa and elsewhere.

I have just spent a few minutes updating posts from January 2019, which listed items beginning with B and items beginning with G. Over the last year or two I have also had to update the posts for items beginning with E and S (in the light of Swaziland being renamed as eSwatini) and for those beginning with A, M and N to reflect the following: Astana has been replaced by Nur-Sultan as the capital of Kazakhstan, and the European nation Macedonia has been renamed as North Macedonia.

Changes to countries and their capitals have affected 7 letters (26.9% of the alphabet, if you like) in under three years. Is that a lot? I don’t believe so. Looking back to the early 90s, the changes in European geography alone must have affected far more letters of the alphabet in a shorter space of time: all the nations created after the division of Yugoslavia, the 14 new nations that emerged after the end of the Soviet Union, and all the new capital cities.

Geography doesn’t stand still. You’ll know that if you look at maps of the world from 30, 50 or 100 years ago. But the rate of change is probably slower than it was back then. Unless I’ve missed something, it is over 10 years since a new member state was added to the UN: South Sudan in 2011. Maybe I have missed something. Until this month I’d never heard of Gitega, and it’s been the capital of Burundi since 2019.

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